I occasionally receive emails from thesitewizard.com's visitors asking me which web hosting package they should choose for their upcoming website. Very often, this is because the web host they are considering offers different packages with the higher priced ones providing more disk space and traffic allotment. One recent visitor said, "I think my site will attract a lot of visitors. Should I sign up for the biggest package at the outset?" Another visitor told me that he was hosting his own videos on his website, and wondered which plan would be suitable.
Before I answer the question, please note that this article deals with choosing a web hosting plan. It does not address the question of selecting a web host. If you arrived at this article because you wanted help in choosing a web host, please see my article How to Choose a Web Host instead.
As implied by the question I'm answering, the article also only deals with web hosts that offer multiple packages that you can choose. Not all hosts offer a selection of plans. In general, the web hosts that claim they give you "unlimited" disk space and bandwidth usually only have a single plan for you to sign up for, since you're already supposed to have unlimited everything ("supposed" being the operative word).
You will also notice that I tend to talk about your site's bandwidth, or more accurately, traffic or data transfer requirements. This is because disk space tends to be easier to figure out. For example, if you want to put 20 MB worth of files on your website, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that you'll need at least 20 MB of space.
In my opinion, many new webmasters are unable to properly anticipate how much traffic their new site will garner. They are often too optimistic in their predictions.
Here are some of the very few things that will cause your initial traffic requirements to be large:
Are you directly hosting videos on your website? Note that I don't mean putting up your video on Youtube or some other video sharing site and simply making your web page show that video. When you put your video on Youtube or the like, they bear the burden of your bandwidth for the video. What I mean, instead, is putting the video file on your website itself.
If your video is hosted on your own site, you should do a rough calculation of how much bandwidth and disk space you'll consume. Let's say your video is 200 MB. It will obviously occupy 200 MB of your web space. That part is easy, since it is fixed and doesn't change without your direct action. The bandwith you will need is another thing altogether. Every visitor that views that video will consume 200 MB of your traffic allotment. If you have (say) 5 visitors a day, and they only view your video once, you will use about 1 GB of your traffic a day (arrived at by 5 X 200 MB). A 30-day month of 5 visitors a day will use up 30 GB (30 X 1 GB). And that's just for that one video. We have not even counted the bandwidth required for the rest of your website, for things like your web pages, pictures and other support files.
Generally speaking, videos consume a lot of bandwidth, even for sites with just 5 visitors a day. So if you host videos on your site, you will need to take that into account. Having said that, if the videos only form a small part of your website, and not every visitor views it, it's possible that it won't cause your traffic demands to rocket. In addition, bear in mind that new websites don't really get a lot of visitors, so while you may cross your fingers and hope that you get at least those 5 visitors a day, there's no guarantee that such will be the case.
Are you offering large files for download from your website? For example, are you a software author and are selling (or giving away) your software which your visitors can download directly from your site? If that is the case, you should also calculate the traffic those files may consume. Do it the same way I computed the video traffic requirement above. You may also have to take into account freeloaders who "leech" your file by offering it from their site but link directly to your copy. (Alternatively, you can block them using the technique I describe in How to Prevent Image Bandwidth Theft With .htaccess. Note that the article talks about images, but the same procedure can be used to protect other types of files.)
Are you a celebrity of some sort, with paparazzi camping at your doorstep? If so, you have a better chance at getting a lot of traffic at your site than the average person, since you can let your hoard of rabid fans know of your site, and they will obediently make their way there. Of course, whether you can sustain that traffic will depend on what you put on your website, and the nature of your fan base. For example, a pop star that blogs daily updates about his/her activities will be more likely to continue to attract his/her teen audience than a TV business news presenter. Actually, take that last sentence with a pinch of salt. I have never been a pop star or a celebrity, so what do I know?
Are you embarking on a massive publicity campaign that will reach millions of people? For example, if you are putting up advertisements on television, newspapers, and on popular sites on the Internet, there is a possibility that you will get more traffic than the average new website.
If you are an ordinary new webmaster, without access to millions of people who will happily troop to your site on demand, then chances are that your traffic requirement is not going to be as great as you imagine. Do not think that your brilliant new idea will make your site an instant Internet sensation. Yes, your idea may be ingenious and groundbreaking, but as many seasoned webmasters will attest, getting people to your site is harder than it looks. Successful sites like Amazon.com did not become what they are overnight.
The trick here is to make sure you get a web host that lets you upgrade or downgrade your web hosting package without any penalty. If your web host requires you to pay an additional fee simply because you need to switch your shared hosting plan, I suggest you get another web host. Note: obviously if you upgrade to a new plan, you will have to pay the price of that new package. For example, if you were paying $10 for your original plan and want to change to a $15 package, then obviously you'll have to pay the $5 extra to make up the difference. I'm not talking about that kind of price increase. That is expected. I'm referring to some sort of penalty or "administrative fee" that is charged simply because you want to change from one shared hosting plan to another. If you are required to pay such a thing, be aware that there are many web hosts around that don't charge such a fee (for example, the web host I'm using for thesitewizard.com does not; and it's not alone in this).
Notice that I qualified my statement above carefully to refer only to changes from one shared web hosting plan to another. If you change from a shared hosting plan (where your website shares the computer with many other websites) to a dedicated web hosting plan (where your site is the only one on that computer), you will probably be required to pay an additional setup fee, since dedicated web hosting is a different animal, requiring the web host to specially set up an unused computer (often to your specifications) just for your website.
Next, look for the lowest priced plan that fits your current known requirements. For example, if you know that the files you need for your website require at least 500 MB of disk space, then you obviously cannot choose any plan that offers less than that amount, since you won't even be able to transfer all your files to your account. (You'll run out of space.) And if you want to run scripts on your website, so that you can have a feedback form, a shopping cart or a blog, make sure that the plan supports things like PHP and Perl. I notice that there are a few web hosts (very few nowadays) that don't support this in their cheapest priced plan.
I personally do not consider potential traffic as a "known requirement" for my new sites. No, that's not true. I actually do, but it's not what you think. Unlike completely new webmasters, I know that my new sites will have hardly any traffic. As I said, I'm not a pop star, movie star or anything like that. I don't advertise. And I never host videos or large files on my website. In view of this, once I have figured out the cheapest package that fits my other known requirements, I'm done. That will be the plan I choose.
I know that many newcomers want to prepare for the eventuality that their site will become successful. That is of course the goal we all have. No one starts a site hoping for failure. (At least no one I know.)
That's where the freedom to upgrade your web hosting package comes in. When your traffic exceeds your current site's allocation, and you're certain that this new traffic level is going to be permanent, simply upgrade to a higher package that meets your needs. But you may not want to rush to upgrade on the first hint of a more-than-normal traffic. Sometimes that burst of traffic is just that: a temporary aberration that subsides after a bit. It can come when some popular Internet website or blog notices your site and talks about it, driving some of their visitors to you. Such traffic can be ephemeral, disappearing after a bit, unless your site is compelling enough that those visitors decide that it's worth their while to revisit and tell others about it. For these transient spurts, you can simply pay the excess bandwidth charges for that month. (Hopefully, you'll have signed up with a web host that provides for such things.)
In other words, as long as your web host allows you to upgrade your packages without issue, you don't have to worry about your site's future expansion. I have upgraded thesitewizard.com's package numerous times since I first started it, without any problems. In case you're wondering, all I did was to place an order for an upgrade, pay the difference in price, and that's it. I didn't need to do anything else, like move my files or some tedious thing. My web host probably just changed a setting or two on their end that indicated that my site was entitled to a larger amount of traffic and disk space and that was that. Everything else continued as before, without any additional intervention on my end.
Choosing a web hosting package is actually a simple task for most new webmasters. In the majority of the cases, it involves getting the cheapest plan that supports your known requirements. Even if your site takes off spectacularly within its first week of operation, you can simply upgrade your plan and bask in the glory that your site was the exception to the norm. And if it follows the traffic pattern of the usual new website on the Internet, you will have at least not wasted money paying for stuff you don't need (which you will have if you had bought the largest plan hoping for wild success).
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